It is indeed no surprise that 20th-century India is in a deep democratic crisis characterised by inexcusable tyranny and cohesion, thus creating a completely non-altruistic state driven by a hunger for power and its sheer unaccountability to the society. It boasts of representing the society, but it does so procedurally and almost never substantively. To understand the evolution of this tyrannical democratic state, it is indeed a prerequisite to critically examine the phases of its historical evolution and its periodic degradation since the outbreak of Indian indigence in 1947.
In 1947, the Congress, with its nationwide consensus and democratic aspirations, rightfully formed the government and dominated the political sphere as the single largest political party characterised by its shrewd decentralised organisational structure capable of absorbing and representing all factions. The healthy internal competition within the party ensured adequate checks and balances and facilitated inclusive representation of all factions.
However, this glorious institutional quality and vibrancy couldn’t sustain itself for long due to the growing insensitivity and detachment from ground reality owing to centralisation and the evolution of a new ‘high command’ culture in the aftermath of the Emergency in the 1970s. There was a large scale centralisation of banks, undermining of the judiciary through various Constitutional amendments, dilution of the legislative power of state governments, signalling that the Congress was keen on concentrating power and gradually diluting any possible opposition to its policies.
This can be considered a turning point in India’s political experience. It marked the beginning of the gradual decline of the Congress and single party domination in India and, India’s transition to a system with numerous smaller parties. This led to political parties changing their formula and focusing on identity politics to gain ground. This fuelled new aspirations. People believed that the new system would broaden choices, foster a competitive spirit and help in better representation of the several diverse factions in the country. But these hopes have been far from met. The BJP used ‘Hindutva’ sentiments and the rhetoric of preservation of Indian nationalism and culture to amass votes. Simultaneously, this period also saw the growth of caste based politics in India.
Periyar in the south had fought for the dignity and self-respect of the members of lower castes and other marginalised communities. Unfortunately, his legacy was inherited by the DMK and AIADMK in the future to ‘strengthen’ Dravidian politics. In the recent Bihar elections, it was interesting to see how the ‘Grand Alliance’ capitalised on the remarks made by RSS on reservation policies and used it successfully as a platform to polarise the members of backward communities.
No one is arguing that representation of members from backward communities must not be permitted. But the disturbing fact is the ruthless exploitation of social realities in India by several politicians without any significant attempts to improve the condition of people, especially for members of backward communities, by prioritising health, education, etc. This, beyond doubt, also explains why the Left in our country, which talks of virtues like individual liberty, better standards for workers etc. is labelled as anti-development and sometimes ironically as ‘anti-national’ and has never been allowed to lead nationally for the simple fact that politicians who have centred their politics around identity have been able to do a commendable job polarising the masses.
Thus, it is clear that political parties in India are either crippled with poor institutional quality and lack of committed leaders or an irrational obsession with their own identities and their ruthless imposition on the fragile Indian society which is either adequately traumatised or left wanting with a lack of adequate choices. It is certain that a third political front would take considerable time to develop. The only way this political crisis can be solved is by organising and restructuring the political parties and their propaganda based on democratic principles and making them more accountable to society.